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Website Facebook Aspirations Site Twitter NCWIT Aspirations in Computing Newsletter: Issue #2

In this issue we talk to Serena Booth, who took a gap year to work at Disney Research between graduating high school and starting at Harvard. We'll also hear from two Aspirations recipients who got to visit Washington, D.C., and participate in the White House Science Fair, and we'll interview a teacher who's been remarkably successful in recruiting women to his computing classes.



Serena Serena Booth, from Memphis, Tennessee, took a slightly different path after winning a national Award for Aspirations in Computing in 2011. She was admitted to Harvard after graduating from high school, but decided to take a gap year to work in behavioral research at Disney.

Serena was inspired to take her gap year for a couple of reasons. Her brother also had been accepted to Harvard as an incoming freshman, and as with many siblings close in age, Serena decided that a little bit of distance might do the both of them some good. She also felt like she needed a break from school. "I didn't have anything in mind when I first decided to defer, I was just sort of burnt out, too many teachers, too many rules, and I was just tired after high school … I didn't know what I was going to do, but my ears were open."

Not long after she made her decision, a Disney employee who had attended Serena's high school reached out to inquire whether any students were interested in coming to work for Disney Research. After two interviews, Serena joined Disney as a Research Associate.

"Transitioning from high school in Tennessee to working in a research lab in Boston was both challenging and exciting," she said. "When I arrived at Disney Research, I was able to familiarize myself with everything that was going on in the lab and had the opportunity to explore several options before engaging in a focused set of projects. It's a pretty great place to work, because they encourage you to explore ideas you may not be able to pursue in a traditional office."

Serena started at Disney in August of 2011 and finished her tenure in June of 2012 with a two-week jaunt to Disneyland Paris, where she got to interact with people who were testing the product she had been researching and building for the past year. Following the Paris trip, Serena returned to Massachusetts and began her freshman term at Harvard. At the conclusion of her freshman year, Serena has found that she and her brother actually are taking many of the same classes and she's happy they are both at Harvard.

Serena hasn't yet declared a major, but suspects she will likely lean towards Computer Science. She shared a math class with another Aspirations recipient, and through her, Serena got the opportunity to be a technical chair on one of Harvard's research organizations. "I can't stress enough how awesome it is to have the Aspirations community as a support."



The AspireIT middle school outreach program is a pilot initiative that matches Aspirations in Computing award recipients with participating Academic Alliance or K-12 Alliance members to create and run computing-related outreach programs for middle school girls. Inspired by the desire of young women in computing to "pay it forward," AspireIT aims to employ a "near-peer" approach that provides middle school girls with a positive, sustained experience of learning and creating computing alongside their peers in high school and college.

Emily and Janeth One pair of recipients of the pilot AspireIT grants are Emily Peed-Brown, a 2011 Indiana Affiliate Award recipient and 2012 national Award recipient and Janeth Vargas, a 2012 Indiana Affiliate Award recipient. Their program, "IT Girls," will engage with five middle schools to provide after-school and weekend programs throughout the year. The program will expose girls to a variety of programming tools, including Scratch, Kodu, and Alice, and will feature technical projects that allow girls to learn about computing careers.

Both Emily and Janeth will be sophomores at Purdue University in the fall.

"I don't think I can express to the members of NCWIT how life-changing their work is," said Emily. "Many of the things I have experienced in my life have been thanks to them. My decision to go to Purdue, fronting costs of college, flying on an airplane for the first time, feeling cared for by these wonderful people, even the laptop that I am writing on has been thanks to NCWIT. I look forward to being able to help people the way NCWIT has. I look forward to being able to provide an environment of stability, intrigue, and passion for learning that will encourage young women to step out, let their passion be felt and their voices be heard."



We recently wrapped up Affiliate Award celebrations in the New York Tri-State area, Central California, Upstate New York, Ohio, Southern California, Wyoming, and Arizona (at the 2013 NCWIT Summit on Women and IT). Check out the photos on Flickr and visit the Aspirations in Computing blog to read highlights.



In March, Michigan celebrated its very first NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing in Grand Rapids. The affiliate recognized 15 young women for their computing-related achievements and interests (two of whom were also among the 35 national winners) and of those 15, more than half were students of Shannon Houtrouw, the Michigan Aspirations in Computing Educator Award-winner.

Mr. Houtrouw is a computer science teacher at the Kalamazoo Area Math and Science Center, and for the last 16 years getting teenagers involved in computer science has been his passion. He developed the school's Advanced Placement computer science program and coaches the school's computer programming team, which has dominated in state and Midwest competitions over the past five years.

We caught up with Mr. Houtrouw to find out how he plans to use the $1,000 professional development funds he received, and to learn his magic formula for getting so many girls interested in computer science and applying for the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing.


NCWIT: So Mr. Houtrouw, what do you plan on doing with the $1,000 professional development money?
Mr. Houtrouw: I just bought a plane ticket and registration for the Computer Science Teachers' Association (CSTA) annual conference in Quincy, Massachusetts in July.

NCWIT: Several educators have had two or even three girls apply for Aspirations in Computing, but tell us how it is that you are responsible for eight of the Michigan Aspirations in Computing recipients this year?
Mr. Houtrouw: Well, I have a bit of a captive audience since all the sophomores at the Kalamazoo Area Math Science Center have to take my Pre-AP Computer Science class. I try to create a culture right away that lets all the students know that CS is a co-ed sport.

NCWIT: When did you first learn about the Saginaw Valley ACM High School Programming Contest? Tell us a bit about how you've created this incredible team that sweeps programming competitions year after year (Mr. Houtrow's team recently swept the competition for the fourth year in a row!)
Mr. Houtrouw: Twelve years ago was my first time there and I only had five students. One of my students, Bhooma Aravamuthan, was one of only three females at the contest, while there were about 120 kids there altogether. Yet half the coaches there were female. So even back then I wondered why it takes the younger females so much longer to get interested in CS.

NCWIT: How is it that you have managed to get so many girls to embrace CS so that they now are enthusiastic team members in the programming competitions, and leaving high school with a love of technology?
Mr. Houtrouw: A year ago I found out that Michigan State University was going to host a Tapestry Workshop on Computer Science for 30 teachers. As soon as I found out, I sent them a press release with a photo showing all 78 of my students, including 32 girls. I told them if they worked me into their lineup I would share the trade secrets I have learned over the last 16 years for recruiting kids, and particularly girls into CS
When I started putting my presentation for Tapestry together it dawned on me what my role has really been. I have thought of myself as finding ways to dangle the proverbial carrot in front of the students. I found that if I can get some of the horses eating the carrots, a lot of other horses will also get hungry for carrots.
Constant positive feedback and affirmation, kudos, rewards, awards, etc. all help, but it really hit me that my role has been one not unlike that of Tom Sawyer when he took a challenging lonely job and turned it into a way to have fun. I am the guy who not only gets the students to paint the fence, but they have fun doing it and they get their friends to join them in having fun painting the fence.



Do you see what I hear?
An Aspirations recipient conceives of intriguing way to allow the hearing-challenged a new window through which to experience the world.

Alexa Congratulations to 2010 National Award recipient Alexa Adams, from Modesto, California, for being selected as a winner of Google's Glass Explorers #ifihadglass competition! Alexa has some pretty serious bragging rights, as as she was one of just 4,238 people worldwide whose thoughtful and interesting ideas were selected for the Explorers program, earning her an opportunity to be among the first group of people to own a pair of the spiffy specs.

Google's Project Glass is a pair of glasses with a built-in computer display that sits right on the face. The glasses have many of the same features as the Android smartphone, such as navigation, email, and video conferencing, and because it's a wearable device you can wear it wherever you go. Alexa, a second-year undergrad studying biotechnology with an emphasis in bioinformatics at the University of California at Davis, wants to develop an app that would allow for visual signals to be displayed to the deaf in order to notify them of important signals in the environment, and eventually even interact with those unfamiliar with sign language. For example, if a deaf person is about to cross the street and fails to hear an approaching car, Alexa's winning app idea, Auditory HindSight, would provide visual clues on the glass display interface within their field of vision.

Alexa recently told a reporter for the Davis Enterprise that the genesis for the app came from her early exposure to the deaf community. She hopes it will improve communication between the hearing and deaf worlds, something for which she has developed a passion. "I feel that if I can be using my skills to help other people, then why not," Adams said. "Since I'm connected to the deaf community, and it's something I'm passionate about, it's a perfect niche to fall into."

Before Alexa can buy the high-tech glasses and fulfill her pledge to create the app, she has to raise capital to implement her project. You can learn more or contribute to her online campaign at Piggybackr.



White House Science Fair Aspirations recipients visit the White House:
In April, two recipients of the NCWIT Award for Aspirations in Computing traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend the White House Science Fair, hosted by President Obama. Jasmine Johnson, 18, from Conyers, Georgia, is a senior at the Rockdale Magnet School for Science and Technology; and Rian Walker, 17, is a senior at Ocean Springs High School in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. The young women were accompanied at the White House by NCWIT member Dr. Quincy Brown of Bowie State University.

"Stepping into the White House had to be one of the most surreal moments of my senior year," said Jasmine. She said the trip was incredible, especially considering the fact that it was her first time visiting D.C., and she got to visit the White House and listen to President Obama speak just yards away from her. "What made the trip so rewarding for me was being able to see and listen to so many amazing, award-winning projects from kids across the country, no matter the age or discipline," Jasmine said.

The White House Science Fair — part of the President's Educate to Innovate campaign, which is designed to inspire students to excel in math and science — was intended to celebrate the student winners of a broad range of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) competitions from across the country. Jasmine presented a research project she had conducted on genetics and sleep. Jasmine's bioinformatics research studies the relationship between sleep patterns and its affect on diseases and different functions of the body.

"The highlight of my trip was speaking to Dr. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health, who actually called my research beautiful, among many others who complimented me on my research. I was glad I was able to grasp an opportunity that doesn't come very often," added Jasmine.

"Attending the White House Science Fair was very inspiring!" said Rian Walker. "I saw lots of projects that showed me there is no limit to what you can achieve if you put your all into it. The White House science fair also showed me that there are many different fields of science and the possibilities are endless. I'm excited to continue my education and career in science and hope to be an inspiration to others myself one day."


Aspirations in Computing is supported nationally by Microsoft, Bank of America, AT&T, Motorola Solutions Foundation, Google, Intel, Bloomberg, and Northrop Grumman.

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